Monday, March 20, 2017

The Rock Maiden: A Chinese tale of love and loyalty, by Natasha Yim (ages 4-8)

As a child, I loved imagining that images in clouds, rocks and mountains were connected to the folktales I loved to read. Natasha Yim brings this wonder to her tale, The Rock Maiden, which updates the traditional Chinese legend of Amah Rock in Hong Kong.
The Rock Maiden: A Chinese Tale of Love and Loyalty
by Natasha Yim
illustrated by Pirkko Vainio
Wisdom Tales, 2017
Amazon / Your local library
ages 4-8
When Ling Yee's husband is lost at sea during a terrible storm, she is distraught--yet she cannot let herself believe that he has died. "Maybe he found somewhere to wait out the storm," she thinks to herself as she keeps watch for him. Every morning, she returns to the same spot, with her baby strapped to her back, to look for him.
"Ling Yee asked each exhausted fisherman, 'Have you seen Ching Yin?' But each shook his head."
Legend holds that Tin Hua, the goddess of fishermen, took pity on Ling Yee's sorrow. She turned Ling Yee and her baby into stone, perhaps to reunite with her husband in the afterlife. Amah Rock stands in Hong Kong, high on a mountain overlooking the island and the sea. It looks uncannily like a woman holding a child.
Amah Rock in Hong Kong
In retelling this legend, Natasha Yim creates a happy ending for young readers -- bringing Ching Yin back to his village after surviving the storm. Tin Hua, the goddess, takes pity once again and returns Ling Yee to life. Natasha Yim writes in her author's note,
"As a teenager growing up (in Hong Kong), I was captivated by this story. There is a hotel in Sha Tin with a large outdoor patio and a gorgeous view of the hills, valley below, and the Amah Rock. My family would go there on weekends for lunch or afternoon tea and I'd spend the time watching the Amah Rock and willing her to come back to life. She never did, of course, but her story has always stuck with me."
This story exudes warmth and love, as Ling Yee waits for her husband and then is finally reunited with him. It would be interesting to ask children if they like this new ending, or if they prefer the traditional tale's ending.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Wisdom Tales. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Friday, March 17, 2017

Snow or sunshine in March? A poetic salute to spring, with two picture books (ages 3-8)

As much of the US digs out from powerful snowstorms this week, we've been basking in glorious sunshine in California. March brings both snow and sunshine--hopefully spring will start to emerge across the country. Two picture books perfectly capture this contrast, both with beautiful photography and simple, poetic text.
Best in Snow
by April Pulley Sayre
Beach Lane / Simon & Schuster, 2016
Amazon / Your local library
ages 3-8
While the striking photographs will draw young readers into this book, the poetic language is what really stands out to me. With just a few words on each page, April Pulley Sayre conveys the magic and wonder of a snowy day. Here, each line is on a separate page:
"Snowflakes land on a squirrel's nose.
Snow sails. It settles,
shows shapes, dusts wings." 
This simple, concise language encourages readers to linger, look at the illustrations, and think about the word choice. Just look at the verbs she's choosing: sails, settles, dusts. Here's another sample, with the illustrations:
"Snowfall quickens and thickens. Snow clumps and clings. But then..."
But perhaps you're tired of snow, and really want to see the promise of springtime. Or maybe you're here in California, with our sunshine and flowers. Pair Best in Snow with Shelley Rotner's Hello Spring! to see how both authors use poetic language to capture a moment.
Hello Spring!
by Shelley Rotner
Holiday House, 2017
Amazon / Your local library
ages 3-8
*best new book*
Rotner also pairs photographs with strong poetic descriptions, here showing children and animals outdoors as winter turns to spring. I love the diverse range of kids she includes. She really helps kids see themselves in all of these scenes. This is a great book to read aloud with preschoolers and kindergarteners as you're talking about the transition from winter to spring.
"Snowdrops peek out
from under melting snow.
The sun shines stronger.
The lays get longer.
The earth warms.
Frozen streams thaw.
Tree sap flows.
A chorus of tree frogs sings wake up, wake up!"
The flow of the language makes this a joy to read aloud. Look at all of the science concepts she's conveying. The excellent layout and design focuses emerging reader's attention on key descriptive words. The clean font choice makes this well suited for new readers.

Both of these would make excellent books to share with 2nd-4th graders, especially as a model of strong, descriptive writing. Challenge them to writing with this simple noun-verb pattern, perhaps with just one adjective. See how powerful they can make their writing while keeping it simple.

I want to end with a slice of my life, and share California poppies from my walk today. The sunshine was truly glorious, and the poppies nearly glowed in the late afternoon sun.
California poppies from my walk today
The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Beach Lane / Simon & Schuster and Holiday House. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Sonia Sotomayor: Biographies for young readers on the #Road2Reading (ages 8-10)

Our students like learning about important people in the world, and yet biographies can be challenging for developing readers. I'd like to share three biographies about Sonia Sotomayor that are written for developing readers--especially those in 2nd, 3rd and 4th grades. It is important to encourage our young students to practice reading biographies, understanding the whole story of someone's life.

This post is part of the #Road2Reading Challenge, sponsored by Alyson Beecher (KidLitFrenzy) and Michele Knot (Mrs. Knott's Book Nook). Every Tuesday, these two fabulous educators focus on books for developing readers.
Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows Up in the Bronx
by Jonah Winter
illustrated by Edel Rodriguez
Atheneum / Simon & Schuster, 2009
Amazon / Your local library
ages 6-9
I especially like reading aloud a picture book biography with students, using it to build background knowledge for students, helping them create a sense of the person before they begin reading a longer biography. Winter provides a vibrant, upbeat portrait of Sotomayor in this picture book biography of Sonia Sotomayor.
"Sonia's blossoming began with her mother's love and hard work."
 Edel Rodriguez' warm illustrations draw students in, helping them connect with Sonia as a real person. Winter's energetic writing helps convey Sotomayor's perseverance and hard work.
"By the time she graduated high school, she had won an award for being the very best student in her whole school. What an honor! You can't imagine how proud her mother was. This was her daughter, her Sonia!"
Winter helps readers get a sense of Sotomayor's strength of character, but he does not provide many details about her work as a judge. For a fuller understanding, I would encourage students to read a longer biography.
Who Is Sonia Sotomayor
by Megan Stine
Who Was series
illustrated by Dede Putra and Nancy Harrison
Grosset & Dunlap / Penguin, 2017
Amazon / Your local library
ages 8-10
The "Who Was" series is very popular with my 3rd grade students because they combine clear writing with a longer chapter-book format. I especially like the way Who Is Sonia Sotomayor draws readers in right away with a pivotal moment in her life:
"Sonia Sotomayor was in her office, sitting beside her phone. She was waiting for the most important call of her life. A call from the White House! She would learn whether President Barack Obama wanted her to be a judge on the Supreme Court."
Short sentences make this easy for developing readers to understand. After setting the stage for why Sonia Sotomayor is important, the next three chapters cover Sonia's childhood and education, how she struggled with her family's grief after the death of her father, how books like Nancy Drew inspired her to become a detective. Further chapters look at Sonia's early cases, becoming a US district court judge, and finally becoming a Supreme Court justice.

This series works best for readers who have the stamina to read a chapter book with ten chapters. Even though 2nd graders may be able read each word, they typically don't find these interesting enough to sustain their interest. For younger readers, I'd recommend the National Geographic readers series.
Sonia Sotomayor
National Geographic Reader, Level 3
by Barbara Kramer
National Geographic, 2106
Amazon / Your local library
ages 7-9
This National Geographic reader works well for 2nd and 3rd graders who are ready to absorb a lot of information, but want a shorter book they can read in two or three sittings. Bright color photographs, captions and boxes add to the high interest. Here is the first page:
"In August 2009, Sonia Sotomayor became a Supreme Court justice. It is a special job."
This National Geographic Reader presents the information in a clear manner, using shorter sentences and defining terms for young readers. In describing Sotomayor's first job as a lawyer, Kramer writes:
"Sotomayor's first job as a lawyer was in New York City. She worked in the office of the district attorney (uh-TURN-ee). Police arrest people whom they believe have committed crimes. It was Sotomayor's job to prove in a court of law that those people were guilty."
This National Geographic Reader is 48 pages long, about half of the length of the Who Is book. Every page has a photograph, and several pages also have "Words to Know" boxes or diagrams. I especially like this biography of Sonia Sotomayor.

What are some of your favorite biographies for developing readers? I'd love to hear about them in the comments. Please also check out other posts in the Road2Reading Challenge: KidLitFrenzy and Mrs. Knott's Book Nook.

The review copies came from our school library and the public library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, March 13, 2017

Celebrating Latina Activists during Women's History Month: Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes by Juan Felipe Herrera (ages 8-12)

All month, we are honoring women's achievements in political, scientific and artistic arenas. I am particularly interested in sharing lesser-known stories, helping my students connect to a wide range of role models -- particularly women of color.

Juan Felipe Herrera's Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes introduces young readers to the achievement of 20 inspiring Latinos (men and women), and is a perfect celebration of women who were pioneers in politics, business and the arts. While many of the women are well-known, Herrera includes others whose achievements are less celebrated and yet just as inspiring.
Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes
by Juan Felipe Herrera
illustrated by Raúl Colón
Dial / Penguin, 2014
Amazon / Your local library
preview on Google Books
ages 8-12
"A 'hero,' un héroe, was rarely in my vocabulary growing up as an only child of two tireless and kind California farmworkers," Herrera begins in his introduction. “In a land of immigrants, it is an irony that Latino lives have been largely ignored.”

This collection of twenty short, engaging biographies focuses on the achievements of twenty men and women from a wide range of fields: politics, science, the arts. Above all, readers will be struck by how these individuals persevered, committed to their fields and their success. Here are three women I found particularly inspiring:
Adelina Otero-Warren was a woman's suffragist, educator, and politician--"the first Hispana to run for Congress from New Mexico." She focused her public service on education of children in rural areas, especially bilingual schools.

Helen Rodríguez Trías was a pediatrician, educator and women rights activist. She was the first Latina president of the American Public Health Association, who fought for a more equitable health care system and a more equitable society.

Rita Moreno is a Puerto Rican-American actress, dancer and singer who struggled to find non-stereotypical movie roles, even after winning the Oscar for her portrayal of Maria in West Side Story. Instead of taking stereotypical Latina roles, she chose to focus on stage plays and television--especially children's television.
Juan Felipe Herrera is a poet, performer and activist who is the United States Poet Laureate. Herrera writes for both adults and children, infusing his poetry with his experiences growing up as the son of migrant farmworkers. He brings his immense poetic talents to this biography, yet keeps his focus clear and streamlined.

This collection is perfect for reading aloud at home or in the classroom. The short entries let readers choose the stories that interest them. The audiobook, narrated by Luis Moreno, was also engaging and compelling.

The review copy came from our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

STEM Trailblazer Bios & International Women's Day: Computer Engineer Ruchi Sanghvi (ages 8-11)

This week across Berkeley, we're celebrating both International Women's Day and College & Career Awareness Week. I'm excited to share the STEM Trailblazer Bios series, an excellent collection of biographies featuring accomplished, young figures in a wide variety of science careers. My students were fascinated today as they listened to the biography of Ruchi Sanghvi, the first female engineer at Facebook.
Computer Engineer: Ruchi Sanghvi
STEM Trailblazer Bios series
by Laura Hamilton Waxman
Lerner, 2015
preview on Google Books
Amazon / Your local library
ages 8-11
Ruchi Sanghvi is an accomplished computer engineer who was one of the early engineers at Facebook, joining it when it was still a small Silicon Valley startup company. This engaging, short biography describes how she decided to move from India to the United States to study computer engineering, taking risks and never letting fear stop her.

We began by watching this short video, giving students a sense of how young and relatable Ruchi is. I especially like how she talks about moving from India to the United States to pursue her education and career.

My students talked about all that Ruchi accomplished: going to college, getting a job at Facebook, and then designing features that helped Facebook reach so many people. They also talked about how brave and determined she must be. In college, she was one of only five women in the engineering department. She left home and traveled far away. She took risks, leaving a steady job to join a start-up company.

This short biography was clearly written for 3rd through 5th graders. Chapter and section headings help young readers keep focused on the main ideas, while a variety of pictures keep their attention and interest. I especially liked the many quotes from Ruchi that help us hear her own thinking and perspective.

Check out these other STEM Trailblazer books, available in both paperback and hardcover:
The review copy came from our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, March 6, 2017

Little Fox in the Forest, by Stephanie Graegin -- a charming story celebrating a child's imagination (ages 3-8)

Children love playing with stuffed animals -- mine would play "stuffie school" for hours and hours. I adore the new wordless picture book Little Fox in the Forest for the way it honors a child's love for her stuffed animal, bringing magical life to her imaginative world.
Little Fox in the Forest
by Stephanie Graegin
Schwartz & Wade / Random House, 2017
preview on Google Books
Amazon / your local library
ages 3-8
A young girl is drawn into a magical world of animals when she chases the fox that steals her stuffed animal. When a little girl stops to play at a park and leaves her stuffed animal in her backpack, a real fox snatches it away! She chases after the fox, running into the forest with her friend. Artist Stephanie Graegin tells this story in wordless panels, much like a graphic novel.
This story works well with a range of ages precisely because it is wordless; children can tell the story with as much detail as they want. Graegin controls the pacing of the story by varying the size of the panels, using larger panes to let readers soak in details and multiple smaller panes to move the action along briskly. Muted colors in the beginning help the reader seek out the fox hiding in the bushes.
When the fox darts through a doorway in the forest, readers glimpse the brightly colored world on the other side. The two young children follow, entering a magical land of animals. Graegin's animals are adorable, reminding me of the Calico Critter toys my children loved.
This whimsical story will appeal to children steeped in their own imaginative worlds. They will be drawn into the detailed scenes, especially in the enchanted village. The resolution, where the young girl and the fox exchange favorite stuffed animals, brings its own sweet charm to the story.

If you want a little extra fun for your day, I especially enjoyed reading the interview "Little Fox Speaks Out" over at The Children's Book Review. Here's a snippet to tempt you:
The Children’s Book Review: What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Little Fox: Exploring the forest, you never know what you will find!

The Children’s Book Review: I see you have a bag with you. Will you tell us what you keep inside of it?
Little Fox: Crayons, a sketchbook, and my pumpkin seed snacks. Everything I need to go on my journeys.
For those of you with a more serious side, definitely read the in-depth interview Stephanie Graegin had in 2014 with Jules over at Seven Impossible Things.  You'll read all about Stephanie's journey through art school and her path to publication.

Illustration © Stephanie Graegin, shared with permission from the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Schwartz & Wade / Random House. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books